Case Number: 2710

Council Meeting: SEPTEMBER 2018

Decision: Not Upheld

Publication: Northern Advocate

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Unfair Coverage


Robin Grieve complains that Simon Wilson’s column in the New Zealand Herald on the free speech debate sparked by a proposed speaking tour by Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux is inaccurate, unbalanced and unfair. The column ran on July 3, 2018.

The column canvasses the writer’s view of all sides of the free speech debate and concludes that while he is not convinced the threat posed by Southern and Molyneux is sufficient to ban them from entering New Zealand, he is pleased they can’t use council venues.

The Complaint

Mr Grieve’s complaint rests exclusively on Wilson’s use of the term “white supremacists” in relation to Southern and Molyneux.

The complaint notes that while Wilson includes “some quotes and statements” made by the pair nothing backs up his description of them as white supremacists.

Mr Grieve notes that the more usual description of their views is “alt right”, but notes that Southern and Molyneux do not endorse that description and in his own opinion they are not “alt right” either.

Calling someone a white supremacist is a serious allegation and most people would find it repulsive so it should not be used lightly or without a factual basis, Mr Grieve argued.

He also complains that by “cherry picking” certain statements to support his case, Mr Wilson has demonstrated his bias and lack of balance.

In the complainant’s opinion while some of Southern and Molyneux’s opinions are provocative, they are also statements of reasoned fact.

Mr Grieve references some of the examples used by Wilson, including Southern’s reference to Allah as a gay God, and Molyneux’s claim that there are IQ differences between races.

In the case of Southern’s statement about Allah, that was not white supremacy but exposing the homophobia of the Muslim community, Mr Grieve argues. In the case of IQ, Molyneux had been quoting from a US army report, so it was not his own view.

Mr Grieve concludes by asking for the term to be corrected otherwise it will have an adverse impact on how Southern and Molyneux are received in New Zealand.

The Response

Senior Newsroom Editor David Rowe responded to the Media Council complaint on August 6.

Mr Rowe says Wilson’s article was a comment piece, presented as the view of one person, and was clearly labelled as such.

The piece described the difficulty in finding a balance between the rights to free speech and the dangers of inciting hatred or even violence, Mr Rowe says. It did not argue that Southern and Molyneux should be banned from New Zealand but supported Auckland Mayor Phil Goff’s decision to ban them from Auckland Council venues.

Mr Grieve’s complaint centred on the use of the words “white supremacist”. Within the context of an opinion piece the term was fair comment given the Canadian couples’ statements on issues of race and immigration.

Mr Rowe noted that Wilson’s interpretation was shared by Massey University far-right expert and pro-vice chancellor Paul Spoonley who described Southern and Molyneux as part of “a broad coalition of people who at their soft end would be pro-Trump but at the hard end - which I regard both of these being - very white supremacist, or believe in the racial superiority of white people, they believe that immigration undermines countries”.

The editor included a response from the column’s author Simon Wilson:

Wilson says his view that Southern and Molyneux are white supremacists is an honest opinion “and I’m surprised anyone who wants to defend free speech, as I assume the complainant does, would want to oppose my expressing it”.

While their brand of white supremacism is not as directly expressed as it might be in an openly Nazi or KKK rally that doesn’t mean it’s a fiction, Wilson says.

Southern’s major theme is that she is standing up for white people because others, especially the media, don’t.

Southern also railed against multiculturalism and Islam, while Molyneux believed European cultures were superior to non-European cultures, Wilson said. He cited comments in which Molyneux mocked aboriginal origin myths and referred to them as occupying the “lowest rung of civilisation”.

Southern and Molyneux appealed to the fear among some white people that their natural place in the world as its superior race was being taken from them by barbarians, Wilson said.

The Discussion

Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux are Canadian activists and internet personalities. While they reject labels such as alt-right or white supremacist their views are widely accepted as extreme and at the far right and ultra nationalist end of the spectrum.

According to various reports Southern supported the white identitarian group Defend Europe and was detained by the Italian Coast Guard for blocking a ship embarking on a search and rescue mission.

It has been widely reported that she was questioned under the UK Terrorism Act and denied entry to Britain because of her intentions.

Stefan Molyneux is a Canadian podcaster and self-published author who reportedly speaks on topics including anarcho-capitalism, race and intelligence, multiculturalism, libertarianism and anti-feminism.

They provoke strong reactions whenever they speak.

Their proposed visit to New Zealand sparked a huge amount of commentary, news articles and opinion pieces after Auckland Mayor Phil Goff banned them from speaking at council venues.

Ultimately the pair visited only briefly and gave select media interviews after failing to find a speaking venue.

It was against that background that Wilson’s column ran. It was just one of many, many opinion pieces and news articles that canvassed all sides of the debate including those who were pro the tour.

That their tour sparked so much commentary and reportage is indicative of the highly charged opinions and views they sparked on both sides of the debate.

Wilson’s column was clearly a very personal conversation in which the writer revealed his own internal tussle in deciding which side of the debate he fell on.

In that sense it was only one opinion among many run by the NZ Herald on the subject, and clearly marked as such.

Mr Grieves’ complaint doesn’t disagree with the facts presented by Wilson, so much as his use of certain facts over others and his interpretation of those facts as demonstrating a white supremacist ideology.

White supremacy at its simplest level is an ideology based upon the belief that white people are superior in many ways to people of other races, so should be dominant over other races.

Based on the published statements and works of Southern and Molyneux Wilson is entitled to hold an opinion that their views amount to white supremacism.

Even if that is not an opinion shared by Mr Grieve it is one shared by others so the use of the term was not in any way inflammatory or gratuitous, especially in the context of what was a carefully nuanced article.

My Grieve’s expression of his own opinion about the couples’ alt-right status underscores the variety of views and opinion about what they represent. There would be many who disagree with that opinion but he is entitled to hold it.

The complaint that the article breached the principles of accuracy, fairness and balance is not upheld.

Media Council members considering this complaint were Chris Darlow, Liz Brown, Jo Cribb, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, Hank Schouten, Christina Tay, Tracy Watkins and Tim Watkin.

Craig Cooper took no part in the consideration of this complaint.


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